What is that odor?

How to Avoid a Plumber's House Call

by John Moon


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Our noses have an amazing adaptability to odors that either slowly come about or that we are exposed to for a period of time. As an example, smokers typically don't notice the smell of cigarettes because they are exposed to it most of the time. Cat lovers often don't realize how cluttered the litter box is because they slowly adapt to the smell. To prove this, stay out of your home for a week or so and then come back. You might be amazed at what you smell. Another thought is to bring a friend over who hasn't been in your home for a while and ask them what odor, if any, they smell.

With that basically useless rhetoric out of the way, let's get into the meat of this article. What if you came into your home or had an honest speaking friend come in and there's a foul odor. Naturally, you would start sniffing around and the more you sniff, the more you become convinced the odor smells like crap! By "crap," I mean the nose burning, eye tearing smell of fermenting, raw sewage. Well, there's a good chance that's exactly what it is.

Before you call a plumber, ask yourself if there are any sinks, showers, bathtubs, or floor drains that seldom or never get used. With that question out of the way, let's discuss a fairly misunderstood concept of "Plumbing 101."


All of the drain lines in your home from sinks, showers, tubs, and floor drains either directly or indirectly tie into some form of sewage system. All kinds of things such as insects, rats, and especially evil, eye burning odors exist in those sewage systems. All that keeps any of these elements from seeping back into your home or office is a piece of plumbing called a "trap." Look under your kitchen or bathroom sink and you'll see a piece of pipe in the drain line shaped like a "U." That is a trap. Its function is to hold enough water in that drain line to block odors and other elements from coming back in from the sewage system.

By now someone has to be saying, "Hey, you didn't mention toilets." That's because toilets have a trap built into them. That standing water in a toilet isn't there just to allow toilet paper and other things to float around. Yes, the water assists in several ways, but its primary function is to block the largest drain pipe going from your home to keep out all the mystical things that abound within a sewer.

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If you have a sink, tub, toilet, or floor drain that is seldom or never used, the water in that trap slowly evaporates and you start to lose the blocking action of it (floor drains are notorious for this). Once the water level evaporates down to a certain point, sewage smells can and will seep into your home. Since this can happen slowly, the odor might not be quickly noticed as pointed out in the beginning.

I've saved quite a few people an expensive plumbing call by simply having them run some water in those unused sinks and tubs or pouring about one half gallon of water down a floor drain. This is also a good routine to get into on a bi-monthly or more often basis.


Take the Next Step:

  • Run water in any plumbing fixures that don't often get used.
  • Find answers to many of your plumbing questions by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
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